Friday, April 8, 2011

Budgetary "Seriousness"

A lot of liberals are getting tired of hearing about how “serious” Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are. Here, for example, is David Corn:

“Google 'Paul Ryan budget serious,' and you'll be swamped with 22 million results. Add the word "adult," and 239,000 results will appear. There's been much musing within the politerati that the Wisconsin Republican's proposed 2012 budget, which was released on Tuesday and would slash Medicaid and privatize Medicare, is not helpful for Republicans during the high-stakes showdown over spending cuts and a possible government shutdown. But within elite opinion, Rep. Ryan, the influential and wonky chairman of the House budget committee, has won perhaps the most vaunted accolade in Washington: ‘adult.’ . . .

“Yet how courageous is it to whack poor folks and promote tax cuts that favor the wealthy? That's the core of Ryan's budget.”
Corn has a point, but he obscures it by confusing “moral soundness” with “seriousness.” He’s saying that by his lights, and by the lights of any committed liberal, the Ryan budget immorally burdens poor and middle-class Americans. Fair enough. Yet the fact that Ryan, or any committed conservative, looks at the same facts Corn’s looking at and renders an inconsistent moral judgment isn’t a function of different levels of “seriousness” under any recognizable meaning of the term. Equally serious people can make inconsistent moral judgments all the time.

The practical truism that “willing the ends entails willing the means” supplies a better test of seriousness that Ryan passes with flying colors. Say what you will about the model of the political economy implicit in his budget, but he’s unusually straightforward for a conservative politician about what he thinks we have to do to realize it.

Can you say the same about liberals with respect to the model political economy implicit in the Obama budget or Democratic resistance to the Ryan budget? Not yet. What would a liberal politician have to do to be as “serious” as Paul Ryan? My quick and dirty answer: own up to the inescapable fact that we can’t sustain a liberal political economy merely by letting “Bush’s tax cuts for the rich” expire and tell us exactly how high we’d have to raise tax rates on the middle class in order to fund an acceptable level of social services.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post Mr. R.

I don't have an answer to your question as to what a liberal politician has to do to be as "serious" as Paul Ryan. I know what NOT to do and that's say anything like what I heard Alec Baldwin (an actor wannabe politician) said yesterday when speaking of Obama and why he's having troubles:

"...when you come into office and you want to put your mark on things -- this is just my opinion, when you want to put your mark on things, you want to be able to spend. And what's crippled Obama's administration, as far as I'm concerned, is the financial crisis and it's prevented him from doing any new spending."